Tiny Reels that are Huge on Performance – Best Crappie Reels Reviewed

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The ultralight tackle you use for fishing crappie turns each of these little fish into whales, adding to the addictive excitement angling for this species offers. In fact, just one afternoon catching these speckled devils will have you as hooked as they will be!

And the good news is that crappie tackle doesn’t need to break the bank to provide awesome performance. If you’re in the market for a new reel, or you’re new to the sport and unsure of where to turn, we’d like to help. Below, you’ll find our advice about selecting an ideal reel, as well as a set of reviews of some of our favorites.

A quick glance at the best crappie reels:

ImageReelLine capacityBearingsGear Ratio
Cadence CS8 Spinning Reel, Ultralight Fast Speed Premium Magnesium Frame Fishing Reel with 10 Low Torque Bearings Super Smooth Powerful Fishing Reel with 36 LBs Max Drag & 6.2:1 Spinning ReelCadence CS-8 10006 lb./110 yds.9 + 1 roller bearing5.2:1
BassPro Micro Lite Elite6 lb./150 yds.6 + 1 roller bearing5.2:1
KastKing Summer Spinning Reel,Size 500 Fishing ReelKastKing Summer 5004 lb./240 yds.9 + 1 roller bearing5.2:1
Okuma Ceymar Lightweight Spinning Reel- C-30Okuma Ceymar C-104 lb./100 yds.7 + 1 roller bearing5:1
Pflueger PRESSP20X President Spinning Fishing Reel, 100/4Pfleuger President PRESSP20X4 lb./100 yds.6 + 1 roller bearing5.2:1
Shimano Sienna 500 Front Drag Spinning Clam ReelShimano Sienna 5004 lb./100 yds3 + 1 roller bearing4.7:1

What We Consider when Selecting a Reel for Crappie

You want a quality reel for your money, and with a huge range of options, it’s good to know what to look for.

Size matters!

It’s no accident that crappie are nicknamed “papermouths,” and though they can swallow a larger lure and hook than you’d think, in truth, they’re armed with pretty flimsy mouth tissues. One of the easiest ways to improve your odds when fishing these little devils is to move to lighter gear, and we recommend ultralight rods with a fast to medium-fast action to help cushion hookset.

Ultralight tackle is a common choice for crappie for a reason, and to match the rod, lure, and line you’ll use, you need an ultralight reel, too. While you can fish with a larger size, it will unbalance your rod and reel combo, and you won’t make the most of the equipment you’ve bought.

Line capacity and weight

What makes an ultralight reel “ultralight” isn’t just its size and weight, though that matters for balance. Instead, it’s primarily the size of the spool and the line it’s designed to cast.

The designations on a reel typically list the midpoint line weight it’s intended for. When you see a reel with a listed capacity of “4 LB/110 YDS,” keep in mind that it’s designed to handle 2 and 6 pound as well. These numbers usually refer to monofilament. It’s worth noting that more, or heavier, braided line can be spooled on these reels, if you wish.

For crappie specifically, and ultralights generally, look for reels that can accommodate monofilament line weights of 2 to 8 pounds. They’ll hold more than enough line for long casts and all-day fishing. And if you need even greater distance or strength, you can always use braided line.

Here’s some reviews and a buying guide for choosing fishing line for crappie

Spinning versus baitcasting for ultralight

This may sound controversial at first, but hear us out. We strongly recommend spinning reels for any ultralight fishing, and so do major fishing companies like Berkley.

For many fishing applications, it’s fair to say that baitcasting reels are superior to their alternatives. If you’re trolling for marlin, for instance, a large, powerful baitcasting reel with incredible drag settings is just the thing you need. And if you’re fishing for largemouth and need the ultimate in casting distance and drag control, you’ll turn to baitcasting reels to provide the performance you need there, too.

Robust, incredibly smooth, and equipped with enviable drag systems–why wouldn’t we be reviewing baitcasting reels for crappie?

The answer is pretty simple: when you’re fishing ultralight tackle, baitcasting reels will often let you down. Whether that’s 1/32 ounce jigs, tiny beetle spins, or itsy-bitsy rooster tails, you want to avoid these otherwise excellent reel choices.

To understand why, think for a moment about how these two reels systems work to unspool line.

On a spinning reel, you cast with the bail open, and line unwinds outward from the reel with very little friction. The spool isn’t moving; only the line does as it slips around the end of the spool.

By contrast, on a baitcasting reel, the line unwinds by spinning the spool itself, basically the reverse of retrieving. As it leaves the reel, it must turn the spool, and this creates friction as you cast–no matter how excellent the construction and components of the reel.

Now, if you’re chunking a Texas rig, a large spinning lure, or a ½-ounce crankbait, you’re not going to notice that tiny bit of resistance. And as you step up in line diameter, spinning reels will start to fall behind baitcasters as the heavy line drags across the spool. In fact, for larger, heavier applications, the baitcasting reel will definitely outperform the spinning reel in terms of smooth casting and distance. But with ultralight lures, that almost unmeasurable resistance will tell–and you’ll find that you can’t cast nearly as well.

Ultralight reels tend to be spinners for a reason, and most dedicated crappie anglers choose spinning reels for their smooth casting with ultralight lures.

Smooth operation

When I shop for a reel, I like to spin it up, and then assess its balance on the rod, how smoothly it functions, and how easily it snaps the bail closed on a post-cast crank.

Smoother reels are a real blessing over the course of a day’s fishing, and this is one of the places where more money tends to make a difference.

Quality drag

Spinning reels offer one of two drag systems. They’re either mounted at the tail, behind the reel, or on the front of the spool. If you look at really high-end reels, especially those designed for saltwater, waterproof drag systems that are carefully sealed are available, too.

Generally, low-quality drag systems will be jerky or too tight on light line like 2-pound mono. We look for reels that run like butter no matter how light they’re set.

  • Rear drag systems are easy to access, but are more mechanically complicated and less effective because they don’t directly touch the spool.
  • Front drag systems are slightly harder to access while fishing, but they feature tougher and more reliable, powerful, and smooth mechanisms. They use mechanical “brakes” applied directly to the spool, and these are the drag systems we look for in a quality reel.
  • Sealed drag– When you can afford them, waterproofed, sealed drag systems provide longer service lives as they protect the innards from corrosion. But they are a good bit more expensive, and it’s up to you whether they’re worth the cost for freshwater. In our view, the answer to that is “no,” and none of the reels we recommend feature a watertight drag.
Front Drag System

Gear ratio

A final thing to note when selecting a reel is its gear ratio, for instance, 5:1. These numbers described how many turns of the spool one full rotation of the handle produces: in this case, five full spool revolutions per crank.

5:1 is mid-pack; any lower is slow, and any higher is considered fast.

This number matters for two reasons:

  • Lure action – The faster you retrieve a spinning lure, the more speed and activity you demand from the fish, and the less time you give it to decide to strike. That can be a good thing in clear, warm water on bright days. But keep in mind that some lures are best fished quickly, while others perform best when retrieved slowly. You need to consider how you fish and what you throw when selecting a lure.
  • Retrieval speed – The higher the gear ratio, the faster the retrieve. When you’re jigging deep or casting at distance and need to cover a lot of water quickly, a high gear ratio can help. But too much speed can be counterproductive, and you need to get the retrieve right for the lure and for the crappie!

Generally, we look for 5:1 as a good place to start for a general purpose reel, and all the options that made our shortlist cluster around that number.

Final Thoughts

To differentiate themselves from their competitors, you’ll see things like bearing count and housing material advertised. Whether that’s composite or graphite housings or bragging rights to the most bearings, in our experience, these don’t necessarily translate into quality or performance for ultralight reels.

That’s because these little guys don’t take much of a beating from crappie. Larger, heavier reels take a lot more abuse from the big fish they’re designed for. There, the housing material really can matter.

Best Crappie Reel Reviews

Cadence CS-8 1000 – Our Pick!

Cadence CS8 Spinning Reel, Ultralight Fast Speed Premium Magnesium Frame Fishing Reel with 10 Low Torque Bearings Super Smooth Powerful Fishing Reel with 36 LBs Max Drag & 6.2:1 Spinning Reel
Amazon 

Line capacity: 6 lb./110 yds.

Bearings: 9 + 1 roller bearing

Gear ratio: 5.2:1

Cadence’s CS-8 is an exceptional reel, potentially unseating more established brands in terms of performance.

The CS-8 is incredibly smooth, and its build quality is impressive. That Cadence has packed this ultralight with high-quality components is obvious, and for the price, it’s a real contender with even the most expensive alternatives. Indeed, it fishes like a much, much pricier reel, easily offering the performance of high-dollar options.

The drag is awesome, as you would expect, employing a carbon fiber braking system that’s reliably smooth and effective. Cadence says that its reels compare with models costing twice as much. We think that’s true, and if you pick one up, you’ll likely agree, too!

Casting is reliably excellent as well, and for a medium-priced reel, the CS-8 is extremely hard to beat.

Pros:

  • Super-smooth operation
  • Excellent drag system, very high quality
  • Great casting

Cons:

  • Drag isn’t sealed or watertight

BassPro Micro Lite Elite

Line capacity: 6 lb./150 yds.

Bearings: 6 + 1 roller bearing

Gear ratio: 5.2:1

Available at Bass Pro

Check out the full Bass Pro Micro Lite Elite Reel Review!

You may shy away from a store brand, but BassPro’s reels won’t let you down, and in terms of performance for the price, they’ll keep a smile on your face! In fact, I’d put the quality level of these inexpensive reels quite a few notches above their price-point.

That’s not just my opinion–check the reviews! But that said, I own and fish one of these on my ultralight rod, having been won over after testing it one-on-one versus various competitors. I found the Micro Lite Elite to be as smooth as Pfluegers that were three times the price, though it does take a touch more force to close the bail with a crank.

Its front-mounted drag is excellent as well, functioning smoothly with very light line. Casting is excellent, too.

One thing I like a lot about this reel is that it’s tiny, light, and capacious–holding fully 150 yards of 6-pound mono. That’s impressive for an ultralight, and if those features are a concern for you, take a close look at the Micro Lite Elite.

Pros:

  • Affordably priced
  • Smooth operation
  • Excellent drag system
  • Lots of line capacity
  • Great casting

Cons:

  • Drag isn’t sealed or watertight

KastKing Summer 500

KastKing Summer Spinning Reel,Size 500 Fishing Reel
Amazon 

Line capacity: 4 lb./240 yds.

Bearings: 9 + 1 roller bearing

Gear ratio: 5.2:1

KastKing’s Summer 500 is an excellent reel at a truly bargain price. If you’re unsure about switching to ultralight, on a really tight budget, or just need a backup reel, we’d recommend you consider the KastKing carefully.

The Summer 500 is as smooth as many of its competitors, something of a surprise given its price. You’ll notice a difference between this and the Pflueger Patriarch to be sure, but you can buy 10 KastKing’s for the same price!

But don’t expect the ultimate in refinement. The bail can be a bit hard to close with a crank, offering a moment of stickiness as you do. On the other hand, don’t worry about naysayers concerned about durability: the larger models will probably suffer on heavy fish like reds as the internal gears aren’t super robust, but for crappie, this inexpensive performer will do its job.

The front drag system is good and smooth, and this reel casts well, too. While not perhaps as smooth as the Shimano Sienna or some of its more expensive competitors, it’s impressive, nonetheless.

If we had one quibble about this otherwise awesome reel, it would be the low-quality knob on the handle.

Pros:

  • Affordably priced
  • Smooth operation
  • Excellent drag system
  • Great casting

Cons:

  • Drag isn’t sealed or watertight
  • Low-quality knob on handle
  • Durability may be a long-term problem

Okuma Ceymar C-10

Okuma Ceymar Lightweight Spinning Reel- C-30
Amazon 

Line capacity: 4 lb./100 yds.

Bearings: 7 + 1 roller bearing

Gear ratio: 5:1

Okuma’s C-10 is a tiny reel that’s big on performance. Priced for any budget, it demonstrates that paying more doesn’t necessarily buy you a better reel.

The C-10 is silky smooth as you crank it, and the spool closes easily on a crank. Indeed, this Okuma reel is winning converts from more well-known brands because the build quality is awesome, translating into excellent overall performance.

Designed with a front drag system, the C-10 shows its stuff here, too. Smooth even with 2-pound line and the gentlest drag setting, you won’t be disappointed.

On ultralight rods, the Okuma casts well, and it easily accommodates 100 yards of 4-pound mono. Like other budget-minded reels we review, you may notice a slight difference between its performance and that of pricier alternatives, but we think it’ll leave you scratching your head about why you’d pay more for that slender margin.

Pros:

  • Affordably priced
  • Smooth operation
  • Excellent drag system
  • Great casting

Cons:

  • Drag isn’t sealed or watertight

Pfleuger President PRESSP20X

Pflueger PRESSP20X President Spinning Fishing Reel, 100/4
Amazon 

Line capacity: 4 lb./100 yds.

Bearings: 6 + 1 roller bearing

Gear ratio: 5.2:1

Pflueger’s President continues the trend you’ve seen in our reviews toward high-quality, reasonably priced ultralight reels. It’s a trusted name in the business, and one crank will tell you why this brand has won so many fans.

Like pretty much every other reel we review, this Pfluger outperforms its price-point, easily competing with high-end alternatives. Its operation is silky smooth, and you won’t be disappointed by how well it fishes–guaranteed!

The front-mounted drag is smooth and reliable even with light line, and like all of the reels we recommend, it casts exceptionally well. Like the Okuma and Shimano, this reel has been designed with a tiny spool, holding just 100 yards of 4-pound mono. That’s not a problem for us, but if you’re worried, there are larger capacity ultralights on our list.

That said, Pflueger reels are popular for a reason, and many crappie anglers swear by them. Give one a try, and you might be hooked!

Pros:

  • Affordably priced
  • Smooth operation
  • Excellent drag system
  • Great casting

Cons:

  • Drag isn’t sealed or watertight
Shimano Sienna 500

Shimano Sienna 500 Front Drag Spinning Clam Reel
Amazon 

Line capacity: 4 lb./100 yds.

Bearings: 3 + 1 roller bearing

Gear ratio: 4.7:1

Shimano’s reels are legendary for a reason, as they typically set the standard against which all other spinning reels should be judged. The Sienna 500 is no exception, and though quite affordable, its quality and performance are excellent.

Shimano has a reputation for smooth operation, and the Sienna is a testament to that. Although this reel needs to be re-lubed and winterized for extreme cold like ice fishing, summer anglers will find the Sienna spins freely right of the bat. This smooth spinning offers a great example of why more bearings aren’t necessarily better.

The front drag system on this reel is as smooth as butter, too, and it works very well, even with the lightest line. That’s an important consideration, and something that sets quality reels apart from their competitors.

It casts well, and in my experience, narrows the performance gap with more expensive reels from the same company as well as other manufacturers.

Built to accommodate monofilament ranging from 2 to 6 pounds, it’s a great size for crappie–and one you should definitely consider, especially if you like a slower reel.

Pros:

  • Affordably priced
  • Smooth operation
  • Excellent drag system
  • Great casting

Cons:

  • Drag isn’t sealed or watertight

Our Pick – the Cadence CS-8 1000!

This was a very tough call, and as we note at the outset, you don’t need to spend big bucks to get high-performance in an ultralight reel. Any of the models that made our reviews will impress you, and you’d be well served by all of them.

We chose the Cadence CS-8 because it delivers the highest performance at a price that’s still reasonable. In fact, it offers the smoothness, casting, and drag quality you’d expect from a $200 reel, setting a new standard for affordable excellence. It holds a huge amount of light mono or slender braid, and can tackle pretty much any fishing adventure the rod you mate it with can handle.

That said, it’s worth remembering that the other reels we review are roughly ½ to ⅓ the price of the Cadence, and offer nearly the performance it does. If you’re on a tight budget, want a slower reel, or just can’t get your hands on the CS-8–no worries! Any and all of these reels will deliver in spades.

If you like (or hate!) our choices, or would like to add your experience to the conversation, please leave a comment below.

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